I came across this well-worn but still valid piece of writing advice on Twitter yesterday:
If you plan on subverting [expectations], you need to subvert with the goal of something BETTER.
And now today, on CBC’s Sunday Edition, they’re talking about Robert Munsch’s game-changing book The Paper Bag Princess, which came out in that long-ago era of 1980 and subverted all the expectations about what a fairy tale should be.
I remember discovering (or perhaps re-discovering) The Paper Bag Princess in my twenties. As a young man who had heard a million fairy tales with the “and then they got married” happily-ever-after ending, it was a very different ending than I was expecting: the princess doesn’t marry the prince, not even after rescuing him from the dragon.
It was a different kind of ending, but still a happy ending. Maybe not so happy for the prince, but then he did nothing to earn a happy ending. It subverted the trope and made a new, better thing from it.
So go: subvert the expectations. Subvert all the expectations. Make it better.
Header image: Maman, across the street from Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica, in Ottawa.
Yesterday I went to a session put on by Diaspora Dialogue on the topic of pitching your work to agents and publishers.
I had assumed that the format would be a presentation style, but when I arrived I discovered it was more a round table format, with the four agents and publishers answering questions from the room.
I didn’t have any specific questions ready, but that was okay, because the others in the room asked about several topics of interest to me.
Transcribed below are my notes from the event.
General notes on pitching
- Your manuscript (MS) should be as polished as possible
- It’s okay to change from your 1st draft [note: I assume it’s generally necessary to change from your 1st draft]
- It’s better to have an agent when trying to sell a book-length piece
Benefits of having an agent
- First and foremost: their contact lists
- Agents will work closely with the author, providing another set of (expert) eyes on a MS
- the Big 5 publishers (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon and Schuster) generally require agented submissions
- Agents will know what the editors at the various publishers are looking for; those editors trust the agents
- Some publishers (usually small presses) will accept unagented submissions
- Agents are also good at reading contracts for the author [the current brouhaha surrounding ChiZine Press was mentioned]
- Agents can be “author’s therapists” and will go to bat for their authors
- Agents are also able to broker international sales
What will help with pitching & proposals?
- Most important: the contents of the MS
- Also important: MS comps (ie, comparative titles; titles you hope to be compared to)
- Publications in the short story markets can help, because they offer a track record
- Know your book
- Know the publishers or agents you’re pitching to (do your research; have names; or at the very least don’t use “Dear Sirs” in your correspondence)
- Bio: the more your work has been published, the better
- Book description: think in terms of jacket copy (ie, one page at most)
- Don’t be afraid to name-drop your friends in the industry, especially if they’re willing to blurb for you
- Don’t oversell your book (it’s not, eg, “more controversial than the Bible”)
- Ensure that you address the correct person in your pitch
- Aim for 85,000−90,000 words for a 1st MS [note: it wasn’t clear if this was a general rule or a lit-fic guideline; I’ve heard 90,000−120,000 for spec fic]
How important is an author’s “platform”?
- By “platform” we mean social media presence and website
- Consensus: if it’s not something you’re good at, or not something you’re interested in, then don’t do it
- Goodreads: meh (no agent or publisher present felt that an author’s Goodreads presence would sway them one way or the other)
What are agents looking for?
- You don’t need to be previously published to get an agent
- Agents look for unique voice: energetic and enticing
How long does the process take?
- Generally it’s at least 1½ years from pitch to books on shelves, but can be longer
Written last night, but I’ll post it today.
The sun was about an hour above the horizon, and the light had that endless quality, like everything it touched yearned to be golden and knew that this hour would be its best chance. from “Summertime in the Void”, 2nd draft
Here’s an incomplete list of the themes and references that I’m consciously including in my new short story, “Summertime in the Void” (1st draft complete, working on the 2nd draft):
I recently had a look at my submissions on The Submissions Grinder, and noticed that I’d sent “Me and the Bee” to two markets over a year ago, with no updates. I emailed the both of them, and one of them replied to me:
Our editorial team really enjoyed your story, and we were holding onto it for a while as we figured out our plans for our next issue. Unfortunately we’re now on hiatus as we have decided to restructure our journal. I’m sorry again for this disappointing news, but I think your story is very strong and has a good chance of being accepted elsewhere.
So… it’s not accepted, but it almost was, I guess. So close.
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash.
I hammered out 1,100 words, give or take, in “Summertime in the Void”, which is a new short story about a man left behind by the Singularity.
Here’s a sample, but be kind, it’s first draft material:
His dad, not long before he left, had told John that you can’t ever cross the same river twice, and John had asked why not and his dad had just smiled and told him “You’re smart, figure it out.”
Because the water’s never the same, he decided. Sometimes it’s swift and deep, and sometimes—like now, after a long, hot, dry summer—it was shallow, lazy, and muddy.
I’ve got about 3,900 more words to make this into a coherent story. I think I can make it work.
Since Parallel Prairies II is happening, I figure I should write another short story and see if they’d like it.
Here’s the first line, written on my lunch hour today:
The sun is upside-down but no one believes me.
The working title is “Summertime in the Void”, for extra Cancon points.
Photo by ros dagos on Unsplash.
It seems I’m a bit behind on the ol’ posts. Here’s a quick recap of Wednesday to Friday:
Continue reading “Writing Retreat: Days 3 through 5″
- wrote a bunch of words, though I’m a bit behind my goal;
- went on a couple quick bike rides, including one up the hill to the graveyard (where I was tempted to lie down, just for a moment, because that’s quite the hill) and the observation tower;
- contemplated going kayaking but decided I was overheated, so went swimming instead to cool down;
- drove to Winnipeg for my nephew’s 19th birthday;
- also went up to Clear Lake to visit my friend Tim;
- and went out again on Friday night to attempt some Milky Way shots.